Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tips & tricks for online tutoring

Since the first day I've found the work of an online tutor highly challenging and engaging. The biggest challenge for me is finding ways in which to direct and motivate students with their course activities, and getting to know individual needs and expectations of my students. At the end of the study year 2005/2006 I carried out a survey about student satisfaction with the work of their online tutor. In this post I'd like to present student opinions about my work, while a more detailed presentation of the survey will be included in my diploma (after I study some more advanced statistics ;) ).

So, what did the students like most about my work?
(I picked some of the responses - the only change I made was the translation from Slovenian to English)
  • An unobtrusive way of presenting information.
  • That the tutor participated whenever it was necessary and that she always helped us when we were stuck.
  • Kindness, immediate answers, professional attitude.
  • Objectivity.
  • The tutor's interventions in our discussion were good and she guided us.
  • Encouraging words, quick response in case of problems, relaxed atmosphere.
  • That she always responded when she was asked to and when she sensed that we were going astray from out discussions or that she encouraged us when we despaired.
  • Actually, I got more than I expected.
It is clear that students appreciate short response times, and a fair relationship. All this in my opinion helped them to get a sense of my constant presence and in a way make up for the physical and time separations among us. From my experience I can say that the trick of being a good online tutor is being with your students just when they need you most. Being online 24/7 is absolutely unnecessary - students don't really notice your presence if they have no need for you; but they will notice your absence if you're not with them in times of greatest needs (like approaching deadlines, first encounters with a new activities, major group conflicts etc). Also, it helps to give a sense of presence to occasionally write a few words of praise when the students are working well and on their own - just to let them know that you're there and that you appreciate their work. For me the best compliment I got from my students was when a student asked me: "How many hours a day were you online? At least 8, right?" - when actually I was spending on average less then 1.5 hours a day in our virtual classroom. But of course - there were days when I was spending 3 whole hours just working with students online, and then there were days when I only spent half an hour in the virtual classroom.

And here's another trick - it's better to log in the system a few times a day than to spend a certain amount of hours online once a day. The picture I made displays this concept. The red dots represent activities that require response, the rectangles (the color matches the color of the tutor) represent the time each tutor spends online - we can see that in the case of the Morning tutor (that is online online for X numbers in the mornings) the response time for certain activities is much longer than in the case of the Flexible tutor (that also works less because he responds to student needs).

While I was tutoring the course, I checked for new posts AT LEAST 3 times a day - first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening; and that is how I was able to quickly respond to all questions and all unexpected situations. And why is that so? Because one of the advantages of e-learning is the flexibility in time and space - students can freely choose when and where they will work from. Some do it when they get to the office in the morning, some do it in the afternoons, and some in late evening after they put their kids to bed. And if you as an online tutor want to be there for them you have to keep track of all these groups (luckily for me we don't have students in different time zones or I'd probably be awoke by concern in the middle of the night to check the evening activities of american students and morning activities of asian students ;) ).

Yes, being an online tutor (in my opinion) definitely isn't a straight 8 hours work. In hours it may seem like you don't too much, but you do have to work practically all day and even during weekends. Plus you have to predicts the needy situation that will require more of your attention, but in the end, for me, it's a fun and exciting job as few others.

And here are some of my favorite links related to the the subject of this post (alphabetically):

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.